Standing at the bottom of a hill looking back up through the trees, it all made sense. This really was the place. The slight crest just before the fast-right… that’s where the problem started.
That rise in the road had been enough to upset the balance of a hard-charging Subaru Legacy RS. The #9 car slewed to the left, slapped the bank and was tipped into a series of rolls.
Talking to Colin McRae a few years down the line, he’d smiled that wry smile. The 1000 Lakes. Stories of 1992.
“Lankamaa…” he said. “That wasn’t the first crash. Don’t forget, we’d rolled at the test. When the guys were pushing the car into scrutineering, they couldn’t push on some of the panels, the paint was still wet!
“When we went off the road, we rolled something like seven times. I was sure it was finished. It was a big accident, but the car wasn’t so badly damaged. The spectators came and pushed us out from between the tree stumps.
“It wasn’t driving so straight, but we pushed on.”
Almost 31 years to the day that semi-pristine Subaru had gone upside down seven times at the top of the hill DirtFish found its way to on Wednesday.
Book after book has been written on this rally, but one of its most storied stages has to be Lankamaa. It’s for that reason that DirtFish made the journey to Kankkunen’s backyard.
Actually, that’s only half the reason. The other half of the reason was Jari-Matti Latvala and his love of Myhinpää. The most easterly stage on this year’s route is a favorite of Toyota’s returning superstar; if it’s good enough for J-ML, we had to see why.
And if you’re doing Myhinpää it would be entirely remiss not to take a run at Lankamaa too.
Itgetsfasternow.com offers plenty of detail on both stages – but the Kankkunen story of this part of the world is well told by the man himself.
It’s his backyard. It’s where he and his brother Olli grew up. When the road was first included on the 1962 1000 Lakes itinerary, it was a test known solely as Kankkunen. On Friday, the cars come through the famous Lankamaa farmyard not far from the start before they slot left onto Juha Kankkunen street.
Two years on from McRae’s misdemeanor came one of the season’s biggest disappointments – especially if you were Nicky Grist. Or a Finnish rally fan.
Kankkunen arrived at the start of the 1994 1000 Lakes with two wins from the previous three years in Jyväskylä. He was the defending world champion and sat just three points off the lead in the standings ahead of the start 29 years ago.
“We were fairly confident before the start,” Grist told DirtFish. “This was Juha in Finland. He was relaxed going into the start and things were looking good.”
Fastest through the opening stage, the #1 Celica Turbo 4WD took a one second lead into SS2: Lankamaa.
Halfway through, everything went south for the leader. In his words: “There were some ruts in the road. We hit them over a right-hand crest and we rolled. The car landed on some rocks and we lost the [left] rear wheel.”
For Grist, an unexpected twist to his Friday morning was about to get even more peculiar.
“Somebody arrived at Juha’s side of the car shouting at him,” said the Welshman. “We got the car back on the road and got to the finish. I said: ‘Who was that guy? I thought he was going to punch you…’”
The response was delivered in typically laconic Kankkunen style.
“That was my brother.”
His younger brother Olli was cross with his world champion brother for tripping up in their own backyard.
Finding the road, the ruts and the rocks which caught Kankkunen out was another spellbinding moment. This one wasn’t obvious.
We spent close to an hour driving and walking a half-mile section of road trying to figure out precisely how the series of events played out. Then we got it.
Everything made sense, the years fell away and Colin Clark and I were young fans again, standing in awe and building the picture that accompanied another fascinating chapter in the sport’s most intriguing of history books.
From there, we went to Myhinpää, which was exquisite and the very essence of rallying in Finland. It’s mind-bendingly quick with jump after jump after jump. Corners suck you in with an apex that looks entirely doable, only to fool you with a camber ready to spit you at the ditch.
Latvala’s right. It’s an enormous stage of incredible significance.
But we can’t leave the 1994 story there, can we?
Kankkunen and Grist dropped five minutes getting the car back on the road and to the finish. Fifty-seventh after SS2, they slipped a further 19 places as they hauled the Toyota through the next test. It was only after SS3 that they could liaison with the TTE team. The mechanics jumped on the car and bolted two rear corners on.
Time was limited. While the mechanics swarmed, Kankkunen stepped back, cracked a can of Red Bull, lit a cigar and reflected on his morning with Timo Mäkinen.
At least the Celica had four rotating wheels, but only the fronts were generating drive. A complete transmission change came before Myhinpää, stage five.
The result? Fastest.
For the next two and a half days, the Celica would be further refined and improved to return it to something resembling the car that had crossed the start line.
Kankkunen and Grist were on a different planet. The Toyota was hurled from stage to stage in the sort of riotously jaw-dropping drive that helped them climb back to ninth overall – a position which helped their Japanese employer secure the manufacturers’ title.
Talking to the four-time world champion after the event, the wry smile was still in place.
“We were just testing some tires,” he smiled. “When everything was working, we could go flat out. We were just driving. What could we do?”
Reminding Nick of his driver’s thoughts on the 1994 1000 Lakes, Gristy rolls his eyes and laughs. He doesn’t need to say a word.
He well remembers the ride of his life.